10 things Boulder can learn from Greeley

Boulder comes across as the cool kid on the block, always with the latest tech gadgets, hip clothes and a confidence born from repeated success. Greeley, on the other hand, could be seen as the shy kid with dirt on his shoes, lacking in confidence but with strength of character and determination to succeed.

These two cities, separated by just 50 miles, can seem a world apart. One is known for its startup and entrepreneurial culture, while the other balances pride in its pioneer and agricultural heritage with sensitivity to outdated stereotypes.

Few would expect, from common perception, that Greeley would have much to teach its counterpart along the Flatirons. But they would be wrong. Boulder is a great place to live and work, but an excitement is emerging in the city named for Horace Greeley, whose admonition, “Go west, young man,” inspired thousands to trek westward in search of a new life in the late 1800s.

That pioneer spirit can be seen in Greeley today, evidenced in a wide range of sectors and captured in a new initiative dubbed “Greeley Unexpected.” The campaign, supported by the city, the Greeley Chamber of Commerce, the University of Northern Colorado, Aims Community College and other groups, is designed to highlight the people, events and other factors that “make the city an interesting place to live, work, play and learn.”

As someone who is intimately familiar with both cities – I once chaired the Greeley Chamber of Commerce and now run our BizWest office in Boulder – I well know the strengths and weaknesses of both communities. As great as Boulder is, Greeley is doing some very cool things:

• The arts. The Greeley Public Art Master Plan, updated in January, will help the city fund, select, display and maintain public art that builds on qualities that have made the city a great place to live and work.

• The arts, again. Boulder has long lamented the lack of a performing-arts center. In this case, Greeley has it beat, hands-down, with Union Colony Civic Center. The facility opened in 1988 and includes the 1,690-seat Monfort Concert Hall, the 214-seat Hensel Phelps Theater and the Tointon Gallery. The center regularly brings Broadway musicals, concerts, dance and comedy shows.

• Tourism. Who can forget the Greeley Stampede? Every year, the Stampede brings several hundred thousand attendees to the city, building on Greeley’s Western heritage while bringing top-notch performers.

• Music. Newer to the city is the Greeley Blues Jam, celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2014. The two-day event, June 13-14 this year, brings live blues concerts to downtown Greeley and Island Grove Regional Events Center. The downtown concerts are in a dozen bars and restaurants.

• Openness. If Boulder is known as a liberal bastion, Greeley is regarded as a conservative haven. But Greeley also has embraced a series of events organized from the University of Colorado-Boulder – the Center of the American West – in a new study of the effects of fracking, demonstrating a refreshing willingness to air contentious issues.

• Downtown revival. It’s hard to beat Boulder in terms of a vibrant downtown, but there’s much to admire in the determination, drive and vision evidenced by supporters of Greeley’s downtown, an area that has seen loss of businesses and foot traffic in years past. Today, newer or established restaurants include the Greeley Chophouse, the Mad Cow, the Rio Grande and others, all of which are luring diners back to downtown.

• Diversity. Face it: Boulder is pretty white-bread, but Greeley offers a cultural diversity that enriches the community. Out of 95,000 residents, about 33,440, or 36 percent, are Hispanic. That compares with just 8.7 percent for Boulder. (And Greeley has some incredible Mexican restaurants.)

• Housing cost. There’s not much that Boulder can do in terms of its Aspen-like housing prices, but Greeley offers an affordable option. The IRES Multiple Listing Service pegs Boulder’s median sale price at $685,000 in March, compared with $184,000 in the Greeley/Evans area.

• Innovation. Sure, Boulder is a global capital of innovation, but how about converting a long-vacant downtown retail building into a vibrant cinema/restaurant/bar combination? That’s exactly what’s happened with Kress Cinema & Lounge, an independent movie theater that plays “classic, cult and alternative content in addition to mainstream movies.” Movie-goers can enjoy beverages, pizza, sandwiches, salads and hors d’oeuvres.

• Unified brand. The aforementioned “Greeley Unexpected” effort reflects the team approach that key stakeholders have taken to advancing the city beyond old perceptions.

Yes, Boulder’s a great place to live and work. But it’s difficult to overstate the emerging excitement in Greeley.

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